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William Cullen Bryant's "The Yellow Violet"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen Bryant

Introduction and Text of "The Yellow Violet"

William Cullen Bryant’s delightful poem,"The Yellow Violet," is composed of eight rimed quatrains. Each quatrain adds a field to the portrait of spring that the speaker is celebrating in his song of beauty, modesty, alertness, and humility.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Yellow Violet

When beechen buds begin to swell,
And woods the blue-bird’s warble know,
The yellow violet’s modest bell
Peeps from the last year’s leaves below.

Ere russet fields their green resume,
Sweet flower, I love, in forest bare,
To meet thee, when thy faint perfume
Alone is in the virgin air.

Of all her train, the hands of Spring
First plant thee in the watery mould,
And I have seen thee blossoming
Beside the snow-bank’s edges cold.

Thy parent sun, who bade thee view
Pale skies, and chilling moisture sip,
Has bathed thee in his own bright hue,
And streaked with jet thy glowing lip.

Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,
And earthward bent thy gentle eye,
Unapt the passing view to meet
When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.

Oft, in the sunless April day,
Thy early smile has stayed my walk;
But midst the gorgeous blooms of May,
I passed thee on thy humble stalk.

So they, who climb to wealth, forget
The friends in darker fortunes tried.
I copied them—but I regret
That I should ape the ways of pride.

And when again the genial hour
Awakes the painted tribes of light,
I’ll not o’erlook the modest flower
That made the woods of April bright.

Reading of "The Yellow Violet"

Commentary

The speaker in this poem celebrates the beginning of spring as he closely observes a yellow violet. He also appends his philosophical observation regarding modesty and humility.

First Quatrain: Opening Strains

When beechen buds begin to swell,
And woods the blue-bird’s warble know,
The yellow violet’s modest bell
Peeps from the last year’s leaves below.

The first quatrain finds the speaker establishing the period of time that the "yellow violet's modest bell" makes its appearance in the woods. At the same time, the blue-bird may be heard in all its glory, and all the buds on the trees are beginning to appear. The small bright yellow flower then makes its appearance, "peep[ing]" out from the leaves that had fallen two seasons before.

Second Quatrain: Addressing the Flower

Ere russet fields their green resume,
Sweet flower, I love, in forest bare,
To meet thee, when thy faint perfume
Alone is in the virgin air.

In the second quatrain, the speaker speaks to the flower, telling it about his fondness of encountering it and being able to detect it because of its "faint perfume" which is the only fragrance in "the virgin air." Thrillingly, all this happens even before the fields, which are still brown from winter’s stay, have been ploughed and made ready to sprout their growing produce.

Third Quatrain: The Person of Spring

Of all her train, the hands of Spring
First plant thee in the watery mould,
And I have seen thee blossoming
Beside the snow-bank’s edges cold.

In the third quatrain, the speaker compliments the flower for being the earliest to bloom. He personifies spring saying "the hands of Spring / First plant thee in the watery mould."

The speaker then remarks that he has even observed the small blossom, showing its bright head by "snow-bank’s edges cold." The speaker thus suggests that the tiny flower is rugged and dauntless because it is able to endure such harsh weather conditions.

Fourth Quatrain: Obeying the Sun

Thy parent sun, who bade thee view
Pale skies, and chilling moisture sip,
Has bathed thee in his own bright hue,
And streaked with jet thy glowing lip.

The speaker then focuses on discipline. He dramatically portrays the sun's role in discipling the little flower as the violet's parent. Through personification, the speaker places the sun in the role of a parent instructing and guiding the child to become self-sufficient, strong, and persistent in the face of daunting obstacles.

The little flower through the sun's tough love has come to reflect the same feature of the "parent": its "own bright hue" is "streaked with jet thy glowing lip." The bright color of the flower reflects that of the sun, while at the same time featuring a strip of "jet" on her lip, signifying her individuality and independence.

Fifth Quatrain: A Humble Flower

Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,
And earthward bent thy gentle eye,
Unapt the passing view to meet
When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.

Even in spite of the vigor and persistence of this robust little flower, the tiny blossom portrays its modest environment: "Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat, / And earthward bent thy gentle eye." The flower is tiny; it grows low and close to the earth, as it appears to bow its head, not showing its "gentle eye."

It is not likely that anyone casually passing by would even take note of the little flower. Other flowers in comparison would be deemed "loftier," as they "are flaunting nigh." This tiny blossom remains modest and inconspicuous.

Sixth Quatrain: Observing the Humble Flower

Oft, in the sunless April day,
Thy early smile has stayed my walk;
But midst the gorgeous blooms of May,
I passed thee on thy humble stalk.

The sixth quatrain finds the speaker offering further evidence to support his claim that the little flower is modest as he chafes at his own failure to observe it as other blossoms were asserting themselves: "Oft, in the sunless April day, / Thy early smile has stayed my walk; / But midst the gorgeous blooms of May, / I passed thee on thy humble stalk."

The speaker confesses that when it is early spring and easy to see a tiny yellow blossom where no other flowers were showing themselves, he had gladly halted on his walk to take in the "smile" of the yellow violet. But after the "gorgeous blooms of May" had begun displaying their glory, he had neglected the little humble flower.

Seventh Quatrain: Overlooking the Lowly

So they, who climb to wealth, forget
The friends in darker fortunes tried.
I copied them—but I regret
That I should ape the ways of pride.

The speaker therefore takes note that human nature tends to overlook the lowly, the humble, and the modest. As they "climb to wealth," the human being becomes full of pride and self-satisfaction, failing to take notice of beauty in humble places. The speaker regrets that he has succumbed to such failure. He exhibits remorse that he "should ape the ways of pride."

Eighth Quatrain: Remembering the Humble

And when again the genial hour
Awakes the painted tribes of light,
I’ll not o’erlook the modest flower
That made the woods of April bright.

The speaker then promises the tiny yellow violet that he will no longer take the route of pride and obliviousness, but he will remember to observe and pay attention to the humble flower. He will look forward to welcoming,"the modest flower / That made the woods of April bright."

Instead of overlooking again the little flower, he will overlook his pride, keep it in check, and while giving proper attention to the other "gorgeous blooms of May," he will pay proper homage to the little blossom that is always the very first one to presage the beauty of the season of growth.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: When was the poem "The Yellow Violet" written? At what time in Bryant’s life was "The Yellow Violet" written?

Answer: "The Yellow Violet" is an early poem, which Bryant wrote before he turned 21 years old age.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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